Posted by: rogermitchell | January 10, 2011

Cleaning up preaching and the eucharist

This post will be in two parts, mainly because I have taken to heart the view that individual posts need to be relatively short, however important the content. My reason for focusing on preaching and breaking bread at this point is because I believe that they are two of the most central means for reconceiving time, but that in the history of the ecclesia have become so invaded by components of empire that they have often become the opposite of what Jesus intended and become themselves two of the strongest means to legitimate [bolster up] the status quo.

Preaching, as Jesus used it, was a time stopper that brought empire up short by challenging its leaders across society. At its heart was the proclamation of the now kingdom of God. [By the way I really like the anti-cuts, anti-Big Society, Common Wealth initiative’s suggestion that we drop the ‘g’ from kingdom and make it kin-dom! http://bit.ly/92SfuL]. Preaching, instead of heralding incarnational time, has so often become a means of establishing doctrinal control and leadership authority within the church and outwards to the world. The breaking of bread, or eucharist, which embodies the kenotic love life of God shared with his people and available through them to the world, in turn becomes instead the carrier of sovereign hierarchy and the exclusivity of mediatory leadership. What I am getting at here is the carry over of the idea that the sacrifice of Jesus appeased God’s offended sovereignty and somehow the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine by a specially ordained person either repeats this [the mainly Catholic view], or remembers this, [the more Protestant view]. The cross is surely not about appeasing God’s offended sovereignty but the demonstration of the unconditional outpouring of his loving power in order to overwhelm all pretensions to domination and control.

This is no reason for setting preaching and the eucharist aside, although it is easy to understand why some do so. But it underlines the crucial need for their decontamination, otherwise they become an ongoing carrier of the old Christendom mixture into the world.

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Responses

  1. In my church past there was much confusion between preaching and teaching and the requirement for a ‘qualified specialist’ to teach us the learners. The promoted power and control of the many by a select few, a didactic rather than discursive way of coming to an understanding of Jesus and his Kingdom. The early church idea of us all being a holy priesthood was lost.. The cross still about Jesus paying a price which had to be paid on our behalf, but therefore does demonstrate the overwhelming love of God, rather than his desire for a penalty to be paid.

    I love your idea of preaching halting empire time as it challenges the status quo..

    • Thanks for this Mike. Can you expand your point about the cross as payment? I wasn’t sure whether you were saying you still think it is that. It would help to understand in what way you see that. Or have I misread you?

      • Hi Rog, sorry, realised there were a couple of typo’s after I posted the last comment and I couldn’t see a way of editing it afterwards.

        I think I have always seen the crucifixion as being in part about the fact that there is a penalty to sin, i.e. mans disobedience has caused an unbridgeable gulf between God and man, and somehow that has to be dealt with. The cost of sin is death, and because God is just he can’t just pretend it hasn’t happened, like in a court of law, but the idea of Jesus death as being some kind of appeasement of an angry God is horrible. I can not read the situation as being anything other than one which caused the Trinity grief. The point is that it shows the incredible love of God, because the Son came in our place and expressed the outrageous love of a God who loves his creation.

        Not sure if that helps clarify or not…

        M

  2. Thanks for the greater clarity Mike. I understand the cross differently I think! These are crucial matters, one might say (!) so I want to be equally clear before spelling it out in detail yet. But I think that the whole incarnation, from Jesus’ advent to his ascension was the act that bridged the gulf between God and humanity that you describe. From this perspective Jesus came to deal with our sense of separation from God, rather than his from us. It looks like God was always ready to absorb the implications and cost of this gulf in his own person, and we needed to understand and be overwhelmed by this in such a way that it converted us into people who accepted his love and forgiveness and lived in the power of it ourselves. I don’t see the legal justice idea anywhere in the gospel testimony. My theology leads me to read Paul in this light, and not Jesus in Paul’s light.

    • I’m starting to see things the way you suggest, Roger. I heard NT Wright in the fall talking about how, almost since the beginning of the institutionalized church, the life of Jesus has been marginalized. That the creeds simply by-pass the details of his life, going straight to the cross as the most important part of his life. (both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds do this). Wright says that this happened because the early church was concerned with the controversies about Jesus (maybe even preoccupied) and so these were the issues that became important in establishing a ‘creed’ as such.
      As Jesus-followers are we not called to incarnate his life…all of the parts of his life, not just his death…and, as you say, it seems more faithful to bring other teaching (Paul etc) into that light rather than vice-versa.

  3. Yes Roger!

  4. Wow, Roger… I LOVE both your post today and your clarification answer to Mike.

    I’m just wondering if because God exists outside of time, in the context of eternity the cross stood before Jesus lived as well as after he lived. Was Jesus living out of the fact of the cross resonating through eternity (in a similar way that King David grasped relationship with God with a new covenant nature) ie the justification of the cross had to stand but Jesus did not need to define it that way but could already live out of the fact it had happened before it had happened because of eternity???

    Argghh, clear as mud? Sorry… there is a question in there….

    • Hi Fi,
      I think you are on to something important here. Although I do agree with Mike’s point in response to yours that God is not outside time. It seems to me that once God had created the world with time built into it, then he was committed into time. A bit like having a baby changes us forever because love ties us to their destiny, he is now tied to ours. The incarnation reinforces this completely, because there is resurrected humanity within the trinity now. This is, I think what you are reaching towards when you refer to the cross resonating through eternity. The cross exemplifies and fulfils the character of God within the time frame that he began. But he was always this kind of a God. This is how I understand the statement “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” God is and always has been like Jesus. The incarnation reveals him completely.

  5. Thanks for the second post Roger. I have to say, as is often the case in these discussions we have, once it is written down or expressed as you have put it, I cannot disagree with anything you’ve said. In fact, it is obvious to me that it is what I have always believed, but had not previously given it language. It is clear the the whole of Christ’s life was about bridging the gap and showing who the Father really is so that we would want to respond to him. I guess I grew up with a doctrinal culture which told me pretty well everything I did was sinful and that God would punish me (usually as a means to control my childish behaviour), so I am still working through a mindset which sees the need for legal justice somewhere. Thanks for challenging that… I’m working on it.

    Fi, is God really outside of time? My understanding is that by creating the world, he chose to become part of an ongoing history, not just dip in and out of time as is suits him. I think we could get into all sorts of muddles if we can rearrange events.. Be interested to know what others think on this though. 🙂

  6. Yes, thank you both – poor expression of mine ‘outside of time’… Trying to grapple with eternity and our time frame… Agree with you Roger and the explanations you’ve given. Thanks so much for the expansion.

  7. so if preaching and the eucharist are expressions about God and his commitment to time then both are in time – that is, as you have said Roger, in Jesus time. So each should commit us back to the real, the planet, the creation, other people, that context in which we live. Yes? Too often even as they have been used to bolster imperial time they also attempt to take us out of real time through mythological escape mechanisms. I suspect such mythological escape mechanisms (the theology of the rapture for one) actually bolster imperial time as they validate the lack of challenge to it. So let’s get real and in Jesus time in all that we do. c.

  8. Just being have a great prayer time at work with a couple of the guys where time seems to stand still. Its like you can step into his presence and it is overwhelming, glorious and full of awesome life. I think the challenge is to rest here instead of feeling you have to come back to reality!!

  9. Thanks for the example Cecil. It’s exactly the context for incarnation time. Some great artifacts are coming!

  10. I have an internal conflict with these ideas, because I agree about preaching, but not so much about eucharist…
    Preaching “as Jesus used it” was a time-stopper, because he made people stop and think/process/mull by using metaphor, by twisting things on their heads, by not giving a pat answer or the “approved” party line. So much of our modern preaching doesn’t leave any room for us to see/hear/mull about God, only take our sermon notes and make a to do list on the other side of the sheet.
    But the eucharist, no matter how “circled” by liturgy, seems to me, is always filled with mystery and power. The tangible gifts of bread and wine (oh how I wish we’d have real wine…I digress) when shared in community, never cease to amaze me at how they speak of presence and love. Maybe it’s just me and others find the eucharist as void of presence…
    I think there’s a much longer way to go to reclaim preaching as kingdom activity than there is to reclaim eucharist.
    What do you think?


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